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Common Scams

Protecting International Students from Scams

A message from Rachel Canty, Director of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program

As a new school year begins, it’s important to protect your international students from scamming attempts  they may encounter while studying in the United States. Cultural and language barriers often make it difficult for your international students to discern what is a genuine offer of assistance versus a scam, which can make them vulnerable to fraudulent solicitations. I want to highlight a variety of scamming examples to be aware of, in addition to resources to help your international students avoid common scams and keep their personal information safe.  
In order to receive a Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” your SEVP-certified schools may require prospective international students to pass an English language test, like the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), or prove their ability to speak, read and write in English in order to be eligible for admission. Prospective international students should be weary of individuals who offer to take the TOEFL exam on their behalf, as it could violate the status of their student visa. You and your students should report any suspicion of TOEFL-related fraud to the SEVP Response Center and the Educational Testing Service

In addition to TOEFL scams, be aware of other types of scams, such as imposter scams and phishing attacks. With imposter scams, scammers often try to impersonate government officials to intimidate students into giving them personal information or money. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which includes U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), will never ask students to transfer money to an individual. In addition, students will never be asked to pay fees via phone or by email. If a student receives a threatening call or message from someone claiming to be a government or law enforcement official, they should:
  • Not give the person any personal or financial information.
  • Collect the caller’s contact information.
  • End the conversation immediately if threats and intimidation persist.
We have recently heard about scammers contacting international students to let them know that they have a family member in the hospital in their home country. They will then ask the student to transfer money to help that family member. Please let your international students know that they should always check with their family members first before transferring money by phone or email to a family member in need. 
Lastly, anyone can be impacted by phishing attacks. Phishing attacks use email or malicious websites to infect devices with viruses that collect personal information. These emails usually direct recipients to a website or ask them to reveal private information, such as credit card information. You and your students should avoid:
  • Accessing personal or bank accounts from a public computer or public WiFi network.
  • Revealing personally identifiable information, such as a bank account number, Social Security number or date of birth to unknown or untrustworthy sources.
If a student is a target or victim of a scamming attempt, encourage them to contact you and please report it to ICE’s anonymous Homeland Security Investigations Tip Line. You can also visit USCIS’ tips on avoiding common scams or read DHS’s Identity Theft and Internet Scams Tip Card.

As always, we appreciate your work and thank you for your continued support. 

Rachel Canty